The Failure of Liberation Movements

When Struggle For Freedom Ends In Bondage

Modern history is full of liberation movements. Even the American revolution and the formation of the American nation can be seen as a type of liberation movement that signaled the eventual collapse of European colonialism. In America, modern liberation movements have sought to free blacks, latinos, homosexuals, females, and so on from the social dominance and economic exploitation of so-called “normal” white Americans. Unfortunately, almost all these liberation movements seem to reinforce rather than transcend a materialistic view of personal identity and thus unwittingly contain within their ideology the seeds of prejudice, exploitation, and bondage—the very things they are fighting against. This can be explained as follows.

Modern scientists tend to define reality exclusively in terms of the laws that govern matter. Biologist John Maynard Smith of the University of Sussex declares, “The individual is simply a device constructed by the genes to insure the production of more genes like themselves.” According to Dr. Richard L. Thompson, a mathematician at the State University of New York at Binghamton, “This statement conveys in a nutshell what modern science has to say about the meaning of human life.” Unfortunately, modern liberation movements seem to accept this superficial definition of life. In the Unity Statement of the Women’s Pentagon Action, we find the following statement: “We are made of blood and bone, we are made of … water.”

Obviously, we are not blood, bone, and water, since blood, bone, and water are unconscious material elements that would hardly march to the Pentagon to secure political and economic rights. We are consciousness, and therefore we are aware of, or conscious of, the blood, bone, water, and so on that make up our body. We conscious beings march to Washington to demand our rights. We, who are consciousness, form liberation movements because it is the nature of consciousness to seek freedom.

If we misidentify ourselves as molecular machines, then we fall into the bondage of gross ignorance, specifically that ignorance perpetrated by the worst type of people, those who would conceptually annihilate the soul and God and obliterate forever the only real basis of peaceful society—namely, mutual respect for the sacred status of all life forms and all living beings, based on their common quality of being emanations from God.

In other words, it is my strong contention that to irrationally assume that every living being is identical with the physio-chemical body renders meaningless in an ultimate sense any attempt to establish a moral, just, or liberated human society. Unfortunately, liberation movements tend to intensify the false egoistic identification with the material body and thus themselves contribute enormously to the conceptual and psychological basis of social exploitation and manipulation. This point can be analyzed as follows.

The material body desires sex, food, shelter, and defense, and the material mind desires prestige and the sense of superior status in society. A person dominated by the material body and mind must become an exploiter or manipulator of the material world, since such a person is driven to seek personal gratification either as an individual or through an egotistical collective identity.

The first stage of liberation is understanding that I am not a bag of molecules, I am not blood, bones, stool, bile, mucus, and so on: I am pure consciousness. The Bhagavad-gita teaches us to understand our spiritual identity and gives the following example: We once had a baby body, and then we had the body of a child, an adolescent, and finally an adult. Despite the fact that the body changes its biological elements every seven years, forming in this time span a new physical entity, we remain the same person. That continuous person is the self, or the soul.

If I free myself from the illusion of being a biological machine, the illusion that my existence as a conscious person is not ultimately real since it can be reduced to impersonal, unconscious entities, namely atoms and molecules—if I can thus free myself from the big lie of some modern scientists, then I can free myself from the exploitative, self-centered desires that plague the material body and mind. This is real liberation.

A liberated person can deal with any man or woman without trying mentally or physically to utilize that person as an instrument of personal gratification. A liberated person sees all the creatures of the earth, those appearing in human society, animal society, bird society, fish society, insect society, plant society, or even mineral society, as eternal spiritual entities temporarily encased in various material coverings.

Thus a liberated person sees that every living entity is equal to his or her self in a spiritual sense. In other words, the liberated person sees that every living entity is equal spiritually and is thus worthy of respect and concern. A liberated person cannot view any living entity as a mere object of heartless consumption or manipulation. A liberated person opposes the inexplicable brutality of the slaughterhouse. A liberated person opposes the cruelty of the hunters, who slaughter innocent creatures for sport, and he opposes the publishers who devastate millions of trees to produce paper on which they print their pornography, their trivia, and their materialism.

First we should free ourselves from the vicious illusion that we are material machines. Next we should free ourselves from the selfish desires that pollute the material body and mind. And finally we should free ourselves from the misunderstanding that we are meant to be lords of the earth. The earth does not belong to human beings, either individually or collectively.

Systematic exploitation of the earth, the bodies of others, or even one’s own body constitutes grave irresponsibility and duplicity, since the actual proprietor of the body has not been conceptually established. Upon arriving in a particular country, our primary concern is to understand the laws that govern that place. Such laws are not merely the ordinary physical laws that govern material objects but also the acceptable and unacceptable modes of bodily and verbal behavior in a particular nation that are enacted and enforced by those who govern. Recognition or awareness of these laws is of primary and not secondary concern to a citizen.

Similarly, knowledge of the laws that govern the universe is of primary concern to every human being. To suggest that we put these questions aside reveals a bewildered sense of conceptual priority and procedure.

If we claim that we will first solve the immediate problems of the body, we are presupposing that the body, and not consciousness, or the soul, is the essential identity of the entity and therefore worthy of our first concern. We assume that we are bodies and that perhaps we have a soul, rather than that we are consciousness, or self, or soul, and that we have a body.

If there is no soul, then control or manipulation of one person by another is merely a biophysical event without ultimate meaning. Morality and justice are then mere inventions of self-righteous entities, who are themselves expressing the propensities of their genes and whose anger and indignation at social injustice can be described through the symbols of mathematical expression as neuro-chemical brain states.

Thus the attempt by a people or social class to free itself from oppression or to achieve justice, in the materialistic concept, becomes a mere test of political strength for personal gratification and resembles the model of social Darwinism, which in itself is the model for unrestricted exploitation by the most vulgar means.

We living beings dwell within our bodies as consciousness, and other living beings dwell without, perceiving our bodies from without. What is the absolute logic or moral imperative that assigns the privilege of ownership to the internal and not the external entity? If we accept the principle that the body is to be exploited for selfish gratification then how do we establish that the body should gratify the internal rather than the external controller of the body?

The real tyranny is the tyranny of illusion, which keeps us perpetually in the ignorance of materialistic consciousness. Those who are exploited or oppressed should not struggle to become equal exploiters of the earth—to have a fair share of ignorance.

If we maintain a society of big exploiters or of many little exploiters, the result will be the same. If we try to adjust and integrate a planet full of billions of little gods, the result will be ludicrous, disastrous, and useless. The urge to exploit matter for bodily or mental gratification, and thereby to gratify one’s false ego, is like a germ. As long as a single cell of this germ remains within one’s mind, it has the potential to continue to grow until it produces a Hitler or a Stalin.

The rulers of society are ignorant and falsely accept the material body as the self and humans as the rulers of the earth. Like animals, such persons think that their native land is their property, their families are their property, their personal bodies are their property, and that one may enjoy or exploit in any obscene way without consideration of an objective morality to govern their behavior.

Unfortunately, many liberation movements accept these basic illusory principles but make the following demand: that the big exploiters of the earth be replaced by the many little exploiters—that exploitation be opened to all, on an equal basis. Many liberation movements directly or indirectly, consciously or unwittingly, nullify the very basis of respect among all creatures, namely, recognition of the sanctity of all life. They do this by attempting to define immediate reality without reference to a transcendental source of existence.

Dr. Howard J. Resnick

Dr. Howard J. Resnick, a distinguished teacher of the ancient bhakti-yoga tradition of India, has written and taught for over forty years throughout the world. Most notably, he is the first westerner in history to successfully translate and comment upon the canonical Bhāgavata-purāna from within the tradition. Dr. Resnick received his Ph.D. in Sanskrit and Indian Studies from Harvard University. As a visiting scholar at UCLA, the Graduate Theological Union, and the University of Florida, Dr. Resnick is specialized in teaching the history of philosophy and religion within South Asia. He has also published articles with such institutions as Harvard, Columbia, and the University of California. Having lectured at leading universities throughout the United States, Europe, India and South America, Dr. Resnick is sought after as a speaker for colleges, universities, divinity schools, civic groups, and religious organizations of all kinds.

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